Which African countries may join the BRICS group of nations, and why do they want to?

President of Brazil Lula da Silva, President of China Xi Jinping, President of South Africa Cyril Ramaphosa, Prime Minister of India Narendra Modi and Minister of Foreign Affairs of Russia Sergey Lavrov, in a photograph at the 2023 BRICS summit in Johannesburg, South Africa, on August 22, 2023. Image by Presidential Press and Information Office from Wikimedia Commons (Public Domain Mark 1.0).

In recent years, the BRICS group of nations, consisting of Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa, has emerged as a formidable presence in the global economy. With the significant strides achieved by the group, an increasing number of African countries have expressed a keen interest in becoming part of this influential alliance.

Analysts’ opinions regarding the tangible accomplishments of BRICS since its establishment in 2009 diverge. While one analyst maintains a wait-and-see approach to assess the group's future potential, another asserts that BRICS has already surpassed expectations. However, some voices emphasize the need for a more realistic roadmap for the group.

In 2014, the BRICS nations established the New Development Bank (NDB), infusing it with an initial investment of USD 50 billion. This financial institution was conceived as an alternative to the dominant Western institutions like the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF), which have faced criticism for imposing stringent economic policies on developing nations. The NDB offers member countries a counterbalance, providing access to development financing without the constrictions associated with the World Bank and the IMF. In conjunction with this, the BRICS nations introduced the Contingent Reserve Arrangement, designed to offer financial aid to member states grappling with payment issues during times of economic turmoil.

This year's BRICS summit, being held in Johannesburg from August 22-24, is expected to center around the discussion of expanding the group's membership. However, concerns arise as not all current members appear to support this expansion. A South China Morning Post report reveals that India and Brazil are apprehensive about the prospect because of fears of diluting their existing influence within the bloc. India is particularly cautious, given that the inclusion of new members could potentially amplify China's strategic influence, especially as Beijing maintains close ties with some of the potential new entrants, which include Algeria, Iran, Argentina, Ethiopia and Nigeria. 

An intriguing facet to acknowledge is the dynamics of Russia and China, prominent BRICS members, as they strive to shape the alliance's agenda. Both nations perceive themselves as ensnared and isolated by the containment strategies employed by the U.S. and its allies, with China confronting a hostile alliance in its vicinity and Russia contending with anti-Russia alliances in Eastern Europe. Additionally, economic actions aimed at curbing their influence, such as the U.S.-China trade war and sanctions on Russia, have propelled the traction of the BRICS idea. For Russia and China, BRICS serves as a countermeasure against U.S. containment efforts.

In 2010, South Africa became the first African country to join the BRICS group.  Since its inclusion, it has been active in promoting the expansion of the alliance to include other African countries. The current BRICS chair, South Africa, revealed in this report on VOA News that over 40 nations have expressed interest in joining the alliance, showcasing the growing appeal of this bloc. 

Ethiopia has demonstrated a strong desire to join BRICS. On June 29, this year, the Ethiopian Ministry of Foreign Affairs officially announced the submission of an application to join the consortium of developing nations within BRICS. An article by The Conversation sheds light on the strategic reasons why Ethiopia is interested in joining BRICS. Firstly, its deteriorating relations with Western powers because of human rights concerns could be a reason for seeking BRICS membership, as it would make the country more strategically important and potentially encourage Western powers to downplay Ethiopia's human rights issues. Secondly, with a rapidly growing economy, Ethiopia seeks alternative avenues for growth, especially in its strong economic ties with China and India. Joining BRICS could enhance cooperation and attract investments. Thirdly, by joining BRICS, Ethiopia might gain greater leverage in negotiations with the IMF and potentially be part of a challenge to the dominance of the U.S. dollar through the creation of a new BRICS currency. Fourthly, BRICS powers generally support non-interference in the affairs of other states. Lastly, Ethiopia's Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed's image could benefit from BRICS membership, restoring credibility and showing acceptance by major world powers.

While Ethiopia's entry into BRICS presents both potential risks and advantages, it could be interpreted as aligning with an alternative geopolitical bloc. This alignment might potentially reduce aid and investment from Western powers, while simultaneously enhancing Ethiopia's strategic significance.

In a parallel development, although Nigeria hasn't expressly shown her interest in becoming a member of BRICS, a report by the Leadership newspaper said that the Nigerian Political Science Association (NPSA) has called on the government to follow in the steps of other countries and join the BRICS alliance. Nigeria's economy demonstrated substantial growth, expanding by 6.6 percent last year and is poised for continued advancement, according to a report by the BBC.

Perspectives and possibilities

The eagerness displayed by African nations toward the BRICS group underscores its potential in shaping the global economic landscape. The proactive role of South Africa in advocating for BRICS expansion within Africa stands out. Ethiopia, Nigeria, and other interested African nations perceive membership as a gateway to new markets, investments, and collaborative solutions to shared challenges.

Several dimensions underpin African nations’ interest in BRICS. Economic considerations, with BRICS countries constituting a significant portion of global GDP, offer expansive trade and investment opportunities for African economies. Engagement with BRICS can attract direct foreign investment, technological advancement, and bolstered export capabilities.

Moreover, BRICS has emerged as a distinctive voice advocating for reforms in global governance and championing multipolarity. For African countries, often marginalized in global decision-making, BRICS presents a platform to amplify their voices and assert their interests.

Additionally, shared developmental challenges provide fertile ground for collaboration between BRICS and African nations. Infrastructural development, poverty alleviation, and sustainable growth resonate deeply with both parties. Through BRICS, African nations aspire to garner technical support and financial aid to tackle these challenges effectively.

However, potential drawbacks loom. Concerns are voiced about the risk of economic dependence on major economies within the bloc, particularly China. Unequal partnerships and unfavourable trade imbalances could potentially exploit African resources. Additionally, harmonizing diverse economic structures, political systems, and developmental levels among African nations might pose diplomatic challenges within BRICS.

The enthusiasm shown by African nations to join BRICS highlights the coalition's capacity for transformation. However, the potential expansion of BRICS to incorporate African nations raises the question of whether it could initiate a fresh era of South-South cooperation, magnifying the united voice of emerging economies on the global platform. As African countries consider BRICS membership, it becomes imperative to meticulously assess its implications, ensuring that it paves the way for inclusive and sustainable development. This evaluation stands as a cornerstone for a promising future marked by collaborative progress.

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